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Old Frisian
Spoken in Netherlands, Germany, Southern Denmark
Total speakers
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Anglo-Saxon runes
Latin alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3 ofs

Old Frisian is a West Germanic language spoken between the 8th and 16th centuries in the area between the Rhine and Elbe on the European North Sea coast. Whether the speakers of Frisian are the immediate descendants of the Frisians of Roman times or immigrants from North Germany and Denmark is unknown. The language of the earlier inhabitants of the region (the Frisians famously mentioned by Tacitus) is attested only in a few personal names and place-names. Old Frisian evolved into Middle Frisian spoken from the 16th to the 19th century.

In the early Middle Ages, Frisia stretched from the area around Bruges, in what is now Belgium, to the river Weser, in northern Germany. At the time, the Frisian language was spoken along the entire southern North Sea coast. This region is referred to as Greater Frisia or Frisia Magna, and many of the areas within it still treasure their Frisian heritage. However by 1300, their territory had been pushed back to the Zuyder Sea and the Frisian language survives along the coast only as a substrate.

The people from North Germany and Denmark who settled in England from about 400 onwards came from the same regions and spoke more or less the same language as the people who lived in Frisia (as medieval Friesland is usually called to distinguish it from the present-day regions with that name). Hence, a close relationship exists between Old Frisian and Old English.


Phonology and grammar

When followed by front vowels the Germanic /k/ softened to a /tʃ/ sound; for example, the Frisian for cheese and church is tsiis and tsjerke, whereas in Dutch it is kaas and kerk. One rhyme traditional to both England and Friesland demonstrates the palpable similarity between Frisian and English: "Bread, butter, and green cheese is good English and good Frisian," which is pronounced more or less the same in both languages (Frisian: "Brea, bûter, en griene tsiis is goed Ingelsk en goed Frysk.") [1]

Old Frisian (c.1150–c.1550) retained grammatical cases. Some of the texts that are preserved from this period are from the 12th or 13th, but most are from the 14th and 15th centuries. Generally, all these texts are restricted to legalistic writings. Although the earliest written examples of Frisian--stray words in a Latin context--are from approximately the 9th century, there are a few examples of runic inscriptions from the region which are older and in a very early form of the Frisian language. These runic writings however usually consist of no more a single or few-word inscriptions.


  1. ^ The History of English: A Linguistic Introduction, Scott Shay. Wardja Press, 2008, ISBN 0615168175, 9780615168173


Rolf H. Bremmer Jr, An Introduction to Old Frisian. History, Grammar, Reader, Glossary. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 2009.


There are some early Frisian names preserved in Latin texts, and some runic (Futhorc) inscriptions, but the oldest surviving texts in Old Frisian date from the 13th century, in particular official and legal documents. They show a considerable degree of linguistic uniformity.



Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



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Proper noun

Old Frisian


Old Frisian

  1. Language akin to English spoken on the North Sea coast of modern Netherlands and Germany before 1500.

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